President's Speech - The Aga Khan

‚ÄčDr. John Waterbury's Speech
Introducing the Aga Khan 
June 25, 2005

Born in 1936, the Aga Khan was educated in Nairobi and Switzerland. He was an undergraduate at Harvard in 1957 when he was called upon to succeed his grandfather as the 49th imam of the global Ismaili community. He completed his undergraduate studies with honors at Harvard in 1959 with a BA in Islamic history.

The present Aga Khan is a committed philanthropist, standing at the head of a network of service institutions focused on the "have nots" of the world, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. His philanthropic institutions and foundations in the fields of education, health, social and economic development, and culture reach almost every corner of the globe and are centered around the Aga Khan Foundation, the Aga Khan Development Network, the Aga Khan Health and Education Services, and the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development.

His Highness has been a generous advocate of education: he is founder and chancellor of the Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan, which boasts an Institute for Educational Development and a Faculty of Health Sciences. In his commencement address at MIT in 1994, he stressed the need for "better linkages between science and the humanities." Today he says that in education there is a need to retain "that broad humanism that rests upon both science and the liberal arts," but also a need to draw more upon "the wisdom of different cultures."

"Education has been important to my family for a long time. My forefathers founded al-Azhar University in Cairo some 1,000 years ago, at the time of the Fatimid Caliphate in Egypt. Discovery of knowledge was seen by those founders as an embodiment of religious faith, and faith as reinforced by knowledge of workings of the Creator's physical world. The form of universities has changed over those 1,000 years, but that reciprocity between faith and knowledge remains a source of strength."

Some of his greatest achievements have come through his involvement in urban development, housing, and Islamic culture centering on architecture. Striving to preserve the spirit of Islam in architecture, he established the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at MIT and Harvard in 1979, a program linked to the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, and the Historic Cities Program.

Under the Aga Khan's leadership, this framework has expanded and evolved into the Aga Khan Development Network, a group of institutions working to improve living conditions and opportunities in specific regions of the developing world. In every country, these institutions work for the common good of all citizens regardless of their origin or religion. Their individual mandates range from architecture, education and health to the promotion of private sector enterprise, the enhancement of non-government organizations and rural development.

Earlier this year, under the auspices of the Aga Khan Foundation, a wonderful park was opened in Cairo, between al-Azhar University and the Citadel, giving the poor and low income populations that inhabit Cairo's "old city" their first open space. It affords them greenery, cleaner air, and a view of this incredible city originally founded by the Aga Khan's forebears.